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Constantine: Come for the drinks, stay for the drinks

The cocktails stand up to expectation, but don't expect the same old pre-prohibition lineup. Prepare to be (pleasantly) surprised.

The cocktails stand up to expectation, but don't expect the same old pre-prohibition lineup. Prepare to be (pleasantly) surprised.

One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn't belong. Monello: sparkly new hotel restaurant unafraid to forge ahead with fine-dinging ideals, helmed by chef Mike DeCamp, formerly of finest of the fine La Belle Vie. Constantine: one of the prettiest new drinking emporiums to open in recent years, all candlelight, dark drama, and sex. Want that second date to turn into an exhilarating third? Drink here. The cocktail list: by Jesse Held, one of the biggest names in local drinking, boldly, delightfully different, leaving pre-prohibition in its dusty annals for a moment, and tinkering with tropical and ethnic flavors like turmeric, lemongrass, passionfruit, even queso; embracing Minnesota by incorporating state darlings like lingonberry and corn. This has all started out very well. 

The food: When the bar bites dropped in plastic baskets lined with checkered patty paper, we had only one conclusion to draw: This food was an interloper. It was unabashedly crashing this party. And while we were game to give this band of freeloading louts a chance, we were no more impressed with their performance once we did. 

While I have no theoretical problem with a cheeky homage to divey bar snacks, and even think it might be a refreshing departure from Monello's tweezered fare, I did not in fact expect them to be less appealing to eat than reliable old dive bar faves. 

A "Chicago style" mortadella hot dog sounded promising as a sunny Sunday morning, but had none of the appealing snap of a good Chicago dog, and it sat on a sodden bun that almost tasted like it had seen time in a steam bath. The prospect of blue cheese-stuffed buffalo wings are like chocolate ice cream cones — who can turn them down? Me, when the skin is flabby as a granny's arm waddle with no hint of deep-fried crunch or texture — the things were slippery as a greased piglet. But perhaps worst of all were the foie gras nachos, potentially genius in concept, altogether off-putting in practice. Cold foie gras sat atop what appeared to be, and tasted like, Tostitos out of a bag, and worst of all were finished with (again cold) gelatinous apricot reduction and shreds of iceberg lettuce that called to mind unfortunate taco salads that no one ever liked in the first place. Cold nachos? Who wants that? That this menu came from the mind of one of the most heralded chefs in town is baffling. 

The lot of it sat sadly uneaten while we ordered another round. 

Cocktails fared much better, and while they trend on the boozy side, we'll return for things like It's Naught a Tumeric, sort of a margarita gone east on vacation, with tequila but also lemongrass, ginger, turmeric, and even a little nam pla. Or the Blue Hawaiian, a surefire way to turn an ordinary weeknight into crazy town, with two rums, pineapple, coconut liqueur, and of course curaçao to bring necktie-around-the-head fun. 

Nachos get an unfortunate and unnecessary facelift at Constantine.

Nachos get an unfortunate and unnecessary facelift at Constantine.

The hostess lords over the place from an actual church alter, the lights are turned down so low that everybody looks like a supermodel, and the underground urban drama of the place is more Midtown Manhattan than Minneapolis. But don't break the spell by even glancing at the menu. Go elsewhere to nibble, or at least sink deeper into a couch for a second round before you order. It will help the medicine go down. 

Constantine 

Now open 

1115 Second Ave. S., Minneapolis 

612-886-1297

constantinempls.com